Jeff Green

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Young Lakers figuring it out


LOS ANGELES — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) While we were busy trying to tune LaVar Ball out, young Lakers have developed into a quality team on the rise. Heading into this season, reasonable Lakers fans (there are a few) had goals for their team of mid-30s in wins, improvement and growth as the season wore on, and building the kind of foundation that will attract free agents because they see they can win there down the line.

Since Jan. 8, the Lakers are 18-9, with the ninth best offense and 11th best defense in the NBA, and they have outscored teams by 3.1 points per 100 possessions in that stretch. Los Angeles is on pace for about 38 wins, Brandon Ingram has emerged as a reliable scorer, Kyle Kuzma surprised everyone with a strong rookie season, Julius Randle is a beast, and Lonzo Ball has found his shot (39.7 percent from three in his last 20 games) and brings the intangibles needed to push this team to new heights.

Through all the distractions and drama, the Lakers are right on schedule.

It all came together Sunday night as the Lakers ran past the Cavaliers 127-113, a game where Isaiah Thomas got a little revenge on his old team with 20 points and nine assists. A couple of things were clear sitting at this game. First, the Lakers thrive playing up-tempo, something that left the Cavaliers defense scrambling. It’s not just Lonzo Ball (although he is a catalyst), the Lakers play at the fastest pace in the league for the season and guys like Kuzma, Randle, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope thrive in it. Cleveland was cross-matching and lost in transition defense, the Lakers were moving the ball, attacking the rim and all of that led to good looks.

“We knew if we got out in transition on this team, we could have some success,” Randle said. “So that’s what we tried to do.”

The other thing evident on Sunday: Julius Randle is going to get PAID this summer. Sources say are multiple teams have set their targets the restricted free agent big man (Dallas is near the front of that list), and his play is forcing the Lakers to reconsider their plans. Los Angeles has hoarded cap space to go after two max salaries this summer, but to do so meant letting Randle walk (or he would have to resign for far less than he’s worth). That two max guys strategy has risks, starting with can the Lakers land two guys worth that money? But Randle’s play has raised the question, should Los Angeles go after one max player and then use that money to re-sign Randle?

Sunday night Randle showed exactly why other teams are getting in line to make offers in July.

Randle has limitations to his game (no jumper, for one) but Luke Walton has done an excellent job at putting him in spots to play to his strengths — playing downhill attacking the basket, being physical, and getting rebounds. With teams switching everything on picks, it creates mismatches for a physically strong player to attack one-on-one. Randle just powered through Jeff Green multiple times Sunday night, and the small-ball Cavaliers had no other answer, so Randle racked up a career-best 36 points.

“Everybody’s had a hard time with him of late,” LeBron James said of Randle.

That’s true of the entire Lakers team.

2) Kyrie Irving misses second half with knee soreness, Pacers beat Celtics, move ahead of Cavaliers to three seed. The biggest news to come out of Sunday was this: Kyrie Irving did not play the second half against Indiana due to general knee soreness, and it sounds like he is going to get some rest down the stretch. Irving has had concerns about his knee since breaking his kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals, and now he needs to get it some rest. We’ll see if he plays Wednesday for Boston vs. Washington, but the Celtics need him at full power for the playoffs — Boston’s already pedestrian offense is 7.6 points per 100 possessions worse when Irving sits this season.

Without Irving, the Celtics shot 38.9 percent in the second half and could not hold off Victor Oladipo (27 points) and the Pacers Sunday, falling 99-97. Combine that with the Raptors rolling the Knicks, and the Celtics are now 3.5 games back of Toronto and not likely to make up that ground for the top seed in the East heading into the playoffs.

However, if getting the top seed to avoid Cleveland in the second round is the goal, the Raptors may be in trouble. With Indiana’s win and the Cavaliers getting swept in Los Angeles over the weekend, the Pacers are now the three seed in the East and Cleveland has fallen to fourth. We’ll see if that lasts, the Pacers have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the NBA, but the idea of the Cavaliers as the four seed is not out of the question.

3) Out West, Anthony Davis returns to starting lineup, posts a triple-double with 10 blocks, and it’s not enough vs. Jazz. Also, the Timberwolves beat the Warriors. Out West, things got a little tighter on Sunday. If that’s even possible.

It was good news for the Pelicans that Anthony Davis only missed one game with a sprained ankle, and he returned with a vengeance scoring 25 points and blocking 10 shots.

But that wasn’t enough — Utah’s defense held New Orleans down and Ricky Rubio had 30 points on the way to a 116-99 win. That win kept the Jazz in a virtual three-way tie with the Clippers and Nuggets for the final playoff slot in the West. All three of those teams are just 3.5 games back of Portland in the three seed.

The other big game in the West was Minnesota getting 31 from Karl-Anthony Towns and beating the shorthanded Warriors 109-103. That moved Minnesota up to the five seed, in a virtual tie with New Orleans for fourth.

Cavaliers say they’re not upset with Jeff Green roller-skating while out injured


With a bow essentially put on J.R. Smith‘s soup throw, the Cavaliers have moved onto another silly “scandal.”

Jeff Green is out with a back injury. Yet he – gasp – roller-skated, as video posted by LeBron James to Instagram shows.

Joe Vardon of

Green, James, and JR Smith were among those who appeared on James’ Instagram account skating away on Sunday at a private party described internally on the Cavs as a “team bonding” event. It is not clear which other Cavs personnel attended.

Cavs staff, in talking with, said while the appearance of Green on roller skates at a time when he can’t play because of a back injury is not a great look, the team’s intent was to keep Green out of games for a period of five days to rest his body from the rigors of NBA court battles.

Roller skating should not be equated with the pounding the body takes during a game, they said.

Were people actually upset with Green? Or are the Cavs just combating faux outrage?

Everyone should be happy that Green is healthy enough to skate. That could show progress. It doesn’t mean he’s ready to play NBA basketball.

Three Things to Know: LeBron is energized again, which should scare league

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Two games in for the new-look Cavaliers and they look dangerous again. Go ahead and make all the “small sample size” alert warnings you want after two games of the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers — both wins after the Cavs knocked off the Thunder in OKC Tuesday 120-112 — but there are two clear takeaways so far:

LeBron James is energized again — and that should scare the league. For the first 10 weeks of this season, LeBron was a serious MVP candidate playing arguably the best basketball of his career. He carried the Cavs as far as one man could, but that was only the three seed because of the injuries/abysmal defense/lack of effort from everyone around him. LeBron wore down and became part of the problem, settling for jumpers on offense and not getting back or rotating sharply on defense.

With a new crew healthy (except for Kevin Love, still out with a broken hand) and putting in effort around him, LeBron looks like his vintage self again and dropped 37 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Thunder Tuesday.

• The bench play is suddenly legitimate for Cleveland. For all LeBron’s brilliance, the Cavaliers were -1 when he was on the court in this game, the Thunder starters were +5 as a unit in their 18 minutes. The difference was Cleveland has a bench now, one that extended the lead at the start of the fourth while LeBron rested and created a gap Oklahoma City could never close. Jordan Clarkson has the ball in his hands driving and making plays, Larry Nance Jr. is bringing energy and some high IQ play, and with Kyle Korver and Rodney Hood on the court there is plenty of shooting. That second unit, with Jeff Green making shots, started the fourth on a 9-0 run and created the separation the Cavs needed. Granted, the Thunder bench is an issue for them (and will be come the playoffs), but this is a good sign for Cleveland.

It’s just two games, let’s see what happens as the scouting reports pile up and teams adapt, but Cleveland looks like a real threat again. And with an engaged LeBron, this could be the team to beat in the East again.

2) James Harden looks every bit the MVP dropping 34 points on Minnesota. If the season ended today, James Harden would be your MVP. At least he’d have my vote (and I sense a lot of others).

It’s a recognition Harden wants badly, he feels he was robbed last year (a two-man race that Russell Westbrook won) and after a few seasons near the top of that race he wants his. Don’t expect him to let up now, with 26 games to go in the season. As evidence, look at the 34 points and 13 assists he dropped on Minnesota Tuesday night in another Houston win.

There is no simple formula to determine MVP, each voter has his or her own criteria, but most of the time the award ends up in the hands of the best player on a team with 55 or more wins, the guy having an elite season even by those standards. Houston is on pace for 63 wins and Harden leads the NBA in points per game (31.4), and he’s doing it efficiently which has him on top of a number of advanced stats categories (from the more basic PER to things like win shares per 48, and value over replacement player). After LeBron’s mid-season mental vacation, Harden has emerged as the man to beat in the MVP race.

3) Nuggets beat Spurs, and the back half of the West playoff race is stupid close. As of Wednesday morning, the San Antonio Spurs at 35-24 are the three seed in the West. (As a side note, if you’re one of the “disgruntled” Spurs fans trolling the team on Twitter for not being good enough this season despite doing this basically without Kawhi Leonard, you need to get outside, breathe some fresh air, and get a life. This team has overachieved.)

The Los Angeles Clippers are the nine seed and currently out of the playoffs — and they are just four games back of the Spurs. The 10th seeded Jazz are just five games back of the three-seeded Spurs, and the Jazz have won 10 straight and are the league’s hottest team now that they are healthy.

After the Warriors and Rockets, who are running away with the top two seeds, anything could happen in the West. The margins are slim and every game matters. Which is why Denver knocking off San Antonio 117-109 behind a triple-double from Nikola Jokic — 27 points 11 rebounds, 11 assists — matters. Denver is in the middle of that morass in the West and needs all the wins it can get — ones like this over the Spurs (or another recently over the Warriors) matters.

Let’s be clear, the Spurs, Timberwolves, and Thunder almost certainly hold on to their playoff slots (3-5) barring major injury (or, for the Spurs, another major injury). But after that, it’s five teams for three spots — Denver, Portland, New Orleans, the L.A. Clippers, and Utah — and they are all separated by two games. It’s the definition of wide open. predicts the Jazz, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers will come out on top, but even the Clippers and Pelicans have a 50/50 chance (or slightly better) of getting into the postseason. It’s that close. For these teams, the playoffs start the day after the All-Star break.

LeBron James hits game-winner on Christian Laettner play (video)


With the game tied late in overtime, the Timberwolves could have held the ball for the final shot. Instead, Jimmy Butler shot and missed too soon.

Then, J.R. Smith made his own error, dribbling after grabbing the defensive rebound. That prevented the Cavaliers from advancing the ball with a timeout.

But it also set the stage for LeBron James.

Inbounding from the backcourt with one second left, Jeff Green hit LeBron near the free throw line, and LeBron nailed the game-winner.

What a finish by LeBron, who finished with 37 points 15 assists and 10 rebounds and delivered Cleveland a much-needed 140-138 victory. Even against poor Minnesota defense – why were Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson guarding players in the backcourt while Butler single-covered LeBron far closer to the basket? – LeBron had little time to get off a shot. So clutch.

Did that play look familiar? Check out Grant Hill and Christian Laettner connecting for Duke in the 1992 NCAA tournament:

Magic come from 21 down to upset Cavaliers; LeBron reiterates he will not be traded

Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — After another embarrassing defeat and two days before the trade deadline, LeBron James let it be known he’s not going anywhere, at least for now.

“I’m here for this season right now to try and figure out a way we can still compete,” James said after his Cleveland Cavaliers blew a 21-point lead in a 116-98 loss to the Orlando Magic. “I owe it to my teammates to finish this season out no matter how it ends up. I would never waive my no-trade clause.”

The Cavaliers fell apart in the second half and lost for the 14th time in 21 games. They have given up an average of 122.4 points in their last five losses.

“I couldn’t give up on my teammates like that. I just couldn’t do it,” James said after scoring 25 points. “We put too much into the game every single day.

“This is no time to be ashamed about our season,” he added. “We’ve got quite a few games left. If we’re still serious about the season, then we’ve got to play some good ball at some point.”

Jonathon Simmons scored 22 of his career-high 34 points in the third quarter for the Magic, who broke a nine-game home-court losing streak against Cleveland.

The Cavaliers scored 43 points in the first quarter, but then went almost 6 1/2 minutes without scoring in the fourth. They played the second half without coach Tyronn Lue, who went to the locker room in the second quarter with what the team said was an illness.

The Magic made their first 10 shots of the second half and won consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 8-10.

James did not have a rebound or an assist in a foul-plagued second half.

“I gave my teammates some opportunities to knock `em down, but they just didn’t go. You can’t get assists when they don’t go down, but that doesn’t stop me from finding my guys on the floor,” he said. “At this point it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. We’ve got to go out and play well as a collective group, everyone hitting at the right time on all cylinders, and right now we’re not doing that.”

Simmons made seven of eight shots in his 22-point quarter, finishing the period with a 3-point buzzer shot in a game in which he almost did not play because of a sprained right ankle.

“To be honest, adrenaline was just going and I didn’t even realize what was going on,” Simmons said. “I was just trying to play hard and trying not to have another setback.”

J.R. Smith made three 3-pointers in the first four minutes to help the Cavaliers (30-22) take a 15-4 lead, and they led by 21 points late in the first half.

Jeff Green dunked to put the Cavaliers up 61-40 with 4:50 left in the half, but they went scoreless for almost four minutes while the Magic (17-36) sliced nine points off the lead.

James opened the second half with a couple of 3-pointers to regain a 16-point lead for Cleveland, but Simmons scored 12 points during the Magic’s 19-2 run that gave them their first lead of the game at 78-77 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

James was called for his fourth foul just 17 seconds later and sat for more than seven minutes.

When he re-entered the game with 10:10 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Magic ran off 14 straight points to lead 108-92.

Dwyane Wade banked in a 3-pointer for Cleveland’s only points in the first 7:25 of the fourth quarter.